In April 2022, the subject librarian team at Omaha Public Library (OPL) will celebrate five years since its official launch. It looks a lot different now. From the initial 10 subjects, eight subjects have been retired or modified, and several new ones have been created.

As I alluded to in Part Two of this series, OPL leadership re-evaluated the community engagement portion of its strategic plan in 2018. OPL frequently receives requests from community organizations to host programs that support their mission. OPL needed to define what constituted a partnership and recognize when our organization did or did not play a valuable role in what was being offered.

This hard look at OPL’s programming helped us to realize that we were drifting from one of our most vital assets: books! As a result, we flipped our priorities to focus more on collections. Sari Feldman’s article, Let’s Make 2019 the Year of the Book, was a timely and relevant article as OPL moved toward new service priorities.

In late 2019, OPL introduced a new set of service priorities that connected patrons to its collections by actively engaging the community of readers. With these new priorities in place, OPL could better leverage its strengths in collection development, readers’ advisory and reference. I subsequently adjusted the subject librarian model, and we now have staff members at eight of our 12 branches covering the following areas:

• Arts & Culture supports Omaha’s thriving art community by soliciting submissions from local artists for OPL’s gallery. In their proposals, applicants are encouraged to include themes related to books, reading, storytelling in any medium, the library’s collections, or the library as a place.
• Book Club supports book clubs by providing resources and programming and oversees a team of book club coordinators that facilitate book clubs meeting at OPL’s branches.
• Civic Health helps staff to assist patrons experiencing homelessness or poverty and provides voter information and other resources or pathways for citizens to be engaged in their community, such as neighborhood associations.
• Community Stories, newly added in 2022, aims to elevate stories from our unique local and historical collections.
• Diversity & Inclusion supports readers through collections work (including a diversity audit to help balance representation), programming, outreach, and readers’ advisory support through the creation of themed book lists representing diverse voices and perspectives.
• Genealogy & Local History assists patrons researching local and family history through curated content and programming.
• Pop Culture, added in 2021, provides timely and relevant connections to popular media culture in OPL’s collection through curated lists (e.g., books, movies, music, etc.) and programming.
• Readers & Writers connects our community of readers and writers to authors and literary events; empowers staff to talk about books; and oversees the Well-Read Collective, a team dedicated to highlighting OPL as the community resource for specialized knowledge in reading recommendations, literature and books.
• Reference helps library staff to assist patrons with questions around business, health and wellness, law, personal finance, taxes and other general reference questions. Legal Information Reference Center and Small Business Reference Center are essential for helping staff members answer questions.
• Urban Gardening oversees OPL’s Common Soil Seed Library, supports Omaha’s community gardeners, and helps to create a space for sharing open-pollinated seeds and obtaining information about gardening and seed saving.

The continued success of OPL’s subject librarian team is due to approaching work through an internal and external focus.

  1. Internally, OPL’s goal is to equip staff members to assist patrons. This includes training them on essential reference and readers’ advisory resources. This is accomplished through staff guides on OPL’s intranet, informal/formal training, and the use of Slack to solicit help from staff members systemwide. A great example of how staff members are prepared to recommend books is through the Well-Read Collective internal genre studies. Each participant is required to read one book in the genre, write a short description and prepare a book talk. At the end, the team creates a genre study guide, which is available for all staff to use as a quick reference. The latest genre study explored mysteries: Download the guide.
  2. Externally, OPL’s goal is to provide excellent resources, engaging programs and outreach for our community. Some highlights include:
    • The Book Drop Podcast, a weekly podcast that explores topics related to our community, libraries and the joy of reading. Listen in as OPL staff members offer up reading suggestions, chat with guests and occasionally geek out about books, information and pop culture.
    • Signature events — including Omaha Reads, Book Bash and Reading Challenge — produced yearly to engage readers to read out of their comfort zone and into new literary realms.

The subject librarian team has made tremendous strides in the past five years. As I think about 2022 and beyond, the subject librarian team has a bright future and a lot of work to do. Since the model is dynamic and flexible, it will allow us to change subjects in response to community needs. As the leader, I continue to help the team embed their roles in OPL’s organizational culture, build systems thinking, and connect to the community through enriching OPL’s collections and programming.

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